Why Avery Johnson Is Wrong to Say the Nets Are Not Title Contenders

Argun Ulgen@@Brooklyn_BeatAnalyst ISeptember 6, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 16:  Avery Johnson of the New Jersey Nets reacts as he coaches against the Miami Heat at Prudential Center on April 16, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Often, a legitimate statement is poorly timed.  Avery Johnson managed to strike that balance in an interview with the Dallas Morning News earlier this week when he said his Brooklyn Nets are not a championship team.

Johnson stated:

"To be able to acquire some other talent through free agency or trades or re-signing some of our own guys, it’s pretty exciting for us. We’re not there yet. We’re not a championship team. We got a lot of work to do. But at the same time, we have a much better talent pool than we’ve had the last two years.

“We’re much more versatile than we’ve ever been. Right now, we look good on paper. Now we got to take it from looking good on paper and apply the work to go (forward).’’

Johnson's conservative outlook has its merits.  However, the public statement could backfire in the Nets locker room and in the New York media.

Johnson Needs to Impress Upon Deron Williams a Championship Mentality

As a coach, Johnson's first task is to get point guard Deron Williams to ascend from superstar to elite status. Williams is already an excellent player with a fluid, creative game.  He has career averages of 18 points and nine assists on 46 percent shooting.

However, the 28-year-old all-star has never displayed the competitive tenacity and steely confidence of a Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade.  Those characteristics are necessary to cultivate a championship dynamic. 

In an interview with Newsday in July, Williams took a somewhat reserved forecast on the Nets upcoming season:

"I think we'll be one of the top teams in the East for sure, top teams in the NBA. It just depends on how everybody jells and comes together as a team. It took Miami a year, losing in the Finals, and this year, they came out and were better."

It will be up to Avery Johnson to get his franchise player to start thinking that every season is a championship campaign.  Johnson's recent representations to the press make it seem like he will shy away from this responsibility.


Other Veterans Must Get into "Championship Now" Mode

Newly-acquired free-agents Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are both in their thirties and have each played 11 years in the NBA. For these two star players, their windows for optimal play are closing. 

Coach Johnson should be instilling in their minds that the next two years are when they need to play with championship team swagger.  Save the rebuilding mentality for a younger, more raw squad. 

A policy of urgency is especially important regarding Joe Johnson.  Last year, Johnson averaged seven year lows in points (18.8), assists (3.9), and rebounds (3.7) for the Atlanta Hawks

Going into his 12th season, it should be ensured that the 31-year-old Johnson does not fall into the trap of veteran malaise.  With an urgency to win, Johnson can rejuvenate his game and get back to being a 20 point per game scorer. 

Johnson Must Cultivate a Nets Attitude that Will Satisfy Owner Mikhail Prokhorov

Billionaire Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov invested $81 million this summer for the new-look Nets 

Having now made expenditures that put the Nets owner millions of dollars over the NBA threshold for tax penalties, Prokhorov will expect nothing short of a healthy playoff run. Even a closely-contested first round loss in the playoffs may put coach Johnson's job in jeopardy.

Johnson must develop strong team chemistry, solid defense, and championship swagger before playoff time next spring.  If he does so, the Nets have enough talent to be a dark horse NBA title contender come April, 2013.

Granted a big part of a championship formula is humility and constant self-awareness.  Those are two qualities that Avery Johnson already has in abundance. 

However, a little audaciousness goes a long way to winning as well, and it will be up to Johnson to imbue that into his Nets squad, and perhaps himself as well.